Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clearing Skies

With rain today, heavy rain forecast for tonight through tomorrow and lowland flooding possible I am looking forward to clearing skies.

I captured this image as the skies began to clear near sundown after our Thanksgiving day storm.

Deer season is in full swing here.  So far I have not heard of any hunting accidents in our area.  I don't ever remember a first day with as little gunfire as I heard Monday, even on stormy days, and Monday was picture perfect weather! 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pa Deer Season Opener

As daylight creeps over the rural countryside in the morning the sound of gunshots will echo between the mountains and across the valleys.  In some areas it will be lawful for hunters with the proper tags to harvest either bucks or does while in others the season will be for bucks only.

Buck hunters must also be mindful of the number of points the deer carries as in some areas it takes three points on one side while in others four.  Most importantly hunters need to be careful as no deer is worth taking a chance that may injure another human.

Sightings like the image above will provide grist for hunting camp stories to be told for years to come of the "big one that got away".

Good luck Bucks, I'm rooting for ya :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Camera Critters: Chickadee

For some reason is appears that we have an unusually large population of Black-capped Chickadees this year.  I don't know if we had an unusually large hatch this year or if a food shortage farther north has triggered an irruption.  I have spent a considerable amount of time in our local mountains & woodlands during the past two weeks and these tiny little birds appear to be everywhere.

Although I have been seeing them everywhere, I find I must fall back on our naturalized bird feeders for good detail shots.  I find this shot interesting as it clearly shows how this Chickadee is grasping the sunflower seed.

A moment later the bird is using all of its strength to separate the nutritious kernel from the hull.

For more Critters of all Kinds
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Thoughts on Hunting

Myself admiring one of my Dad's bucks during my early years

I grew up on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania.  Deer hunting was a fact of life and venison was a staple on our dinner table.  Each fall we butchered the hogs on Thanksgiving and buck season opened the following Monday.  Mom would always hold the sausage until she had some venison burger to mix with it to increase the lean content.  Harvesting deer and butchering the hogs, no difference, it was a way of life; a way of putting food on the table.

A I grew older I could hardly wait to join the red-coated men as they went hunting for the mysterious critters that wore antlers and as soon possible I was out there with my little hand-me-down Winchester M1892 38-40 shooting Remington Core-Lokt 180grain slugs.  My first two bucks and a doe fell to that little rifle and what a thrill it was!

As time went by I continued to hunt.  I became interested in longer range rifles, better accuracy, good optics and learning more and more about those mysterious creatures of the wild.  I hunted everything that our area of Pennsylvania offered and I must say I enjoyed it immensely.  My intense interest in hunting took me to the Pennsylvania Game Commission where I served as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer for 23 years.  Although a deputies busiest days were the peak hunting days I still found time to pursue my hunting and balance both with my full time career.  During those years I also found time to visit Ontario for bear hunting and Quebec a few times in pursuit of Caribou.

As the years passed these mysterious denizens of the woodlands were no longer so mysterious and I began to understand that as much as I enjoyed watching the wildlife that when it was killed it was no longer there.  Seems pretty simple to understand, but its not when your view of the wilds is full of mystery, you just knew that what was killed was only the tip of the iceberg, there was always plenty more just below the surface where they could not be seen, a bigger buck just over the next knoll; or was there?

I remember a favorite uncle of mine who hunted with a gang some distance from home telling of all of the does the gang killed.  I remember him saying that it seemed that the more they killed the more there were.  Then a few years later the gang broke up and he began hunting closer home.  Why?  Well they just weren't killing the deer like they used to.  And I wonder why?

Yes I still hunt (consumptive) some and yes I still consider venison a staple on our dinner table but now I question the hunting community more than ever.  I full well realize that the reason that we are blessed with the wildlife populations that we have today is because hunters demanded wildlife departments and laws to protect wildlife to provide huntable populations.  I understand that hunter dollars finance wildlife management and have paid for the reintroduction of many of the species that uncontrolled slaughter decimated or eliminated from many areas.  I also understand that certain keystone species must be kept in balance with the environment and hunting is the most economical way to do this.  But I do call into question some of the things people are doing in the name of hunting.

Anyone who visits this blog regularly knows that I am opposed to the Pennsylvania elk hunt as it is currently conducted.  The elk that live in or visit the elk viewing areas around Benezette and Winslow Hill have no fear of humans yet the bulls are targeted annually in a "trophy" hunt.  How can an animal who has no fear of humans become a "trophy"?  I don't know, the concept escapes me.

Recently the story of "Bozo" the 879 lb tame bear broke here in Pa.  It seems that a man fed this bear from the time it was a cub up until shortly before it was killed by a group of three archers.  It is said that this huge bear was a frequent visitor at a local resort and people would gather just to see Bozo.  The man who fed him could pet him, hug him, and lie down against his side.  Wild bear...Not!  Many in the hunting community demonize this man for feeding the bear; crying its illegal to feed a bear!  Yes it is, Now; but he fed it for 17 years.  It wasn't illegal when he started and only in the past few years has it been unlawful. 

The man who killed him said that he had hunted "this bear" for three years but then is surprised when what should have been the pinnacle of his hunting career is called into question.  If you wish to read more about the incident click Here and Here or just Google Bozo tame bear.

Apparently the shooters knew full well that the animal they turned into a living pin cushion (7 arrows shot by three people) was this exact bear and knew full well this animal's history from some of the comments posted on hunting forums allegedly by members of the party.  Then I read a poll on an archery hunting forum asking who would or would not shoot this animal if they had known its history.  55% said they would shoot!  Is this what hunting has devolved into?  Is this what hunting is all about? 

Last Saturday I took a good friend who is an avid hunter along to visit the local bear check station on opening day of bear season.  There were some very nice bears being brought in along with a number of small cubs.  Looking at the kill map I noted two kill sites with three pins sticking in close together.  Speaking with one of the men on duty they confirmed my suspicion that these sites denoted where a mother and her cubs were killed.  While there my friend overheard a person bragging about his gang getting up four bears and killing them all.  It turned out to have been a sow with three small cubs.  Killing cubs is legal in Pennsylvania, a bear is a bear in the PGC's eyes.  Every time I have talked with my friend since he keeps bringing it up saying how pathetic it is for hunters to do this.  He questions why that its legal, then says "that's not hunting".

Back when I read the hunting magazines I remember they portrayed most hunters as ethical sportsman who were careful to do their best, be beyond reproach and represent the sport of hunting well to the non-hunting public.

Now I read the message boards, see what real hunters think and I question; do I really want to be a part of this?  Its no wonder that so many hunters are concerned about the "anti's"; quickly branding everyone who doesn't agree with everything they do with this negative tag.  Hunters have become their own worst enemies, Along with what I mentioned above are high fence hunts where some "hunt" admittedly tame animals for "trophies" not to mention the poachers who know no limits and have no boundaries.  I have came to the place to where I don't want to be called a "hunter" any more.  55% of respondents would knowingly kill a tame bear roaming free, 20,000 apply for a Pennsylvania elk tag each year hoping to shoot an elk that has no fear of humans.  The hunting community attempts to portray hunters as being for the most part good decent people with deep concerns for our wildlife and our environment with only a few bad apples but 55% would knowingly kill a hand fed bear, that's a majority not just a couple of bad apples.

What ever happened to hunting?  Or has it always been this way?  I have never known an anti hunter to become a hunter but I do know a hunter that is very close to becoming an anti.  Thanks a lot guys your doing one heck of a job.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last Leaves & Rewriting History

With only a few stubborn leaves still clinging to the branches and the weather forecast calling for a wintry mix tonight I know that winter is just around the corner.

Today I listened to Rush Limbaugh as he preached his Thanksgiving sermon denying the genocide that was perpetrated against the Native American people.  I listened as he decried our governments intrusion into our personal lives by way of imposing fish & game laws and licenses.  In summation he stated that the early settlers shot and caught what they wanted without having to ask anyone for permission, buy any license etc and they got along just fine. 

Of course in his rewriting of history he omitted the fact that wildlife populations were depressed at best and in some cases wiped out entirely.  Here in Pennsylvania at the time settlers first arrived we had bison, moose, elk, wolves, cougars as well as the whitetail deer roaming our state.  All were exterminated with the exception of the deer and their numbers were such that one of the very early acts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission was to released deer brought in from other states to reestablish the population.  At a later date elk were reintroduced. 

As I listened to him rant I remembered a truth I learned long ago; listen to a person talk about something that you don't personally know about and you don't know if they are telling the truth.  Listen to them talk about something that you do know about and if they lie then do not believe ANYTHING that they have to say.

Enough said

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 22, 2010

For Good Close-ups..... Get Close!

No amount of telephoto lens can make up for the lack of getting close to the subject.  The more distance between the lens and the subject the more haze, air pollutants and mirage will intervene.  The higher the magnification of the lens the more it will magnify these problems as well as the desired subject.  These Chickadees were shot near the minimum focus distance of my 100-400mm lens

Of course getting this close will get you some strange looks :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rutting Run

Persistence finally payed off when I caught this nice buck rushing across a frosty  meadow as he followed a doe in heat. 

I'm really enjoying shooting with the new gimbal head as it allows me to easily follow rapid movement and capture action photos never before possible when using the pan head.

As he neared the doe he slowed to a trot holding his head high in a classic pose 

With his head held low in another classic rut posture the buck continued pursuing the doe.  Taxidermist frequently try to emulate this posture with the sneak forms.  I have never observed a buck "sneaking" with his head held in this low position but it is a common pose for a rutting buck to assume when he is following a doe.

With only one week to go before our rifle deer season gets underway my season of photographing rutting whitetails is nearing its end but I am still hoping that the best is yet to come.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Camera Critters: Gray Squirrel

Not the rutting Whitetail buck I was hoping for, this squirrel posing so prettily with a beautiful autumn background more than made up for any disappointment I could have had with this mornings shoot.

The clicking of the shutter drew the squirrels attention although is did not send him into a frenzy of chattering as it sometimes does.

Turning away it gave me one more good pose before going to search of food in a quieter place.

For more Critters of all Kinds
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Friday, November 19, 2010


With a look of anticipation

and a bounding run

A fawn approaches its mother hoping to nurse

But the does are weaning the fawns now and although some do allow occasional short nursing sessions

A rebuff as captured this morning is much more likely

The fawns although now half the weight of their mothers and have been eating solid food for months continue to try nursing.  In preparation for the stress of winter's cold, snow and lack of food the does need to gain as much body weight as possible before the onset.  Weaning the fawns is an important step in insuring the does survival.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birds, Instead

The Whitetail Rut to date has been disappointing.  I expected to be posting many pictures of this year's crop of whitetail bucks by now but photographic opportunities have been few and far between.  I attribute much of my lack of success to this years extremely heavy acorn crop which is keeping the deer in the woodlands and surrounding mountains.  So instead of filling my files with buck photographs I find myself focusing on our feathered friends.

Observing this male Red-bellied Woodpecker has proven interesting.  Picking corn from the natural feeder he carries it each & every time to this same exact spot, deposits the kernel into the hole in the side of this snag and hammers it into edible size pieces. 

Hopefully my luck with the bucks will change but time is running out with only a little over one week yet to go before rifle deer season will close the curtains on my Pennsylvania buck photography season 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fire on the Mountain

Crossing over the mountain between New Market and Luray Virginia this morning we began smelling wood smoke as it filtered into the car.  Passing through Page Valley on Rt 211 we noticed a large conflagration on the mountain side to the west.  Stopping at a shopping center Willard & I paused for a few minutes and clicked a couple of photographs of the fire.  This image was shot at 135mm, ISO500, F6.3, 8 seconds.

Although we located a good number of does along Skyline Drive bucks the really good bucks seemed to have dropped out of sight.  Following this buck on foot for a considerable distance I repeatedly tried to set up a shot with the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.  After shooting from a few different positions and moving rapidly to keep up with the moving buck everything finally came together to give me the shot I had visualized.   Specs for this shot are 260mm, ISO160, F7.1, 1/320 second.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blue Jays

Not as confiding as most feeder birds, the Blue Jays will not visit the feeders unless I position myself some distance away.  Using a 400mm lens allowed me to take these photos with only a slight amount of cropping.

Slightly alarmed by the clicking of the camera shutter the Blue Jay gives me is undivided attention

And then crouches as it begins it's take-off.  Firing the camera on high speed continuous the next frame only contained the tips of the Blue Jays tail feathers.

The brilliant blue of the Blue Jay's plumage is the result nanostructures that form the feathers rather than actual pigment.  If you find a feather crush it between your fingers and you will see the brilliant blue change into an unremarkable gray.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The ubiquitous gray squirrel, loathed by some loved by others and hunted by a few, is a beautiful little critter that plants forest and never asks for a paycheck.

For more Critters of all Kinds
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Friday, November 12, 2010

David Grove Remembered

Adams County Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove, gunned down while protecting Pennsylvania's Wildlife.

Game Commision State Match 2004

Last night at around 10:30 pm David Grove 31 was shot and killed during a traffic stop involving poachers shooting deer. http://www.ydr.com/ci_16591021?source=most_emailed

The media nationwide is reporting the tragedy that occurred just two counties away near the historic Gettysburg Battlefield.  Googling David Grove WCO will provide up-to-date news of the incident.

I first met David when he was commissioned as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer in neighboring Franklin County back in 2001.  During the following years we attended training sessions together.  My memories of David are of his fresh young face and his great sense of humor never missing a chance to good naturedly rib his fellow officers.

Our sympathies go out to David's family and to his fellow officers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Memory of Kisser, a Trusting Trophy

I first met Kisser during the 2007 rut

And again during the 2008 rut


During the 2009 rut Kisser was King!

My last visit with him was in March of this year

Kisser never once showed any aggression or fear during any of these encounters.  I watched while he was approached by some, much closer than I would have felt comfortable with, and yet he was always the perfect gentleman.

Now he is gone, shot last Monday, the first day of the Pa Elk Season.  His antlers measured an amazing 14" circumference at the base.  A bull that was totally trusting of humans, spent time in the village of Benezette and thrilled elk viewers for a number of years is now a trophy.

Last year it was the 9X8, this year it was Kisser.  The sad legacy of killing the trusting Pennsylvania elk in the name of hunting continues.............

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

SNP: Third & Final Buck Encounter

Continuing from yesterday's post; after leaving the woods Willard & I decided to drive around some before bidding SNP farewell.  Some vehicles parked on the side of the road and a small cluster of people a short distance away alerted us to a very heavy racked ten point resting nearby.  He obviously was comfortable with people being nearby so we joined in. 

Moving around the buck allowed me to capture him along with the doe he was protecting.  When does become receptive it is common for the dominate buck to stay near her while keeping a sharp lookout for other bucks attempting to cut in.

A small eight pointer was staying close by and occasionly try to sneak in on the resting pair.  When this happened the big fellow would jump from his bed and with a rush and a grunt drive the amorous little fellow off.

After a few rebuffs the small buck took cover directly behind me and my tripod.  Whereas before he seemed very nervous after finding a measure of safely he relaxed and groomed himself extensively.   

The big buck, thankfully not wanting to plow through a photographer, stood his ground and watched.

Usually when taking a portrait shot I attempt to attain a clear unobstructed view of the subject but in this case I liked the added color of the red berries and intentionally set the shot up with a them falling across his nose and neck.  Do they add to the image or do they detract?  Tell me what you think.

Monday, November 08, 2010

In The Woods at SNP

After the rutting activity moved into the woods Willard & I decided that we would do likewise.  After hiking through a swamp and up a power line we intersected a gravel road.  Walking cautiously along the road suddenly Willard hissed "there he is"!  Standing to the side of the road was burly eleven point buck.

As we fired our cameras the buck kept watch over the woodland.  Just when I began thinking about attempting to move closer he suddenly whirled and bounded away.  As he disappeared over the rise I seen an even larger rack bounding away in front of him.

Moving in the direction that the bucks had ran we soon encountered this superb buck walking along with his head to the ground apparently following a doe's scent trail.  As I brought the camera into play the buck alerted.

A moment later, like a buck in hunting country, he wheeled and ran.

A blurry image taken as he was disappearing into the forest is the only shot that shows his eight long well formed points.  How I would have liked to have had a long photo session with this big fellow but on this day it was not meant to be.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

SNP: Saturday Morning Bucks

Our first buck encounter began when we spotted three bucks chasing a doe far out in Big Meadow.  Trying to close the distance we walked at an unhurried pace moving at an angle to the deer trying to close the distance to a more suitable range.  This shot was taken from quite a distance and cropped.  This buck carries an interesting oddly shaped left beam.

The best of the three bucks gave me the best shot but even this was at long range and again requiring considerable cropping.  Reviewing the image I was impressed with how similar he is to a buck I photographed in this area last November.  His facial characteristics and antler conformation is much the same.

This image which I captured in 2009 graces the cover of the 2011 Pennsylvania Game Commission calendar.  I think there is a very good probability this is the same buck in the previous photograph.

The encounter with these bucks was cut short by a photographer who appeared to be unfamiliar with photographing wildlife.  When the rutting activity would move beyond the range of his equipment he would hurriedly try to close the distance by walking rapidly directly at the deer.  These park deer are acclimated to humans but a person hurrying towards them was too much for even these deer to stand for.

When working with wildlife it is imperative to never invade the animals personal space; carry enough lens to capture the image you want without getting too close.  Walking directly at an animal will alarm it much quicker than closing the distance by walking at a angle that brings you nearer but never directly at the subject.  A nonchalant pace is much less disconcerting to a animal than is a rapid pace and only glancing occasionally at the animal is less alarming than maintaining eye contact.  If the animal alerts to your presence stop and wait until it settles down before attempting to get nearer.  Following these few tips will increase your success in the field and as an added bonus will keep other photographers around you happier.